Mid-Summer Power Rankings: Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers at the top of the East
There were 320 players who played at least 750 minutes last season. And as of Monday morning, 129 (40 percent) of those 320 are no longer with the team on which they ended the season.
Of those 129, 103 have found new NBA teams, though only 39 of those 103 changed conferences. Six of the 15 guys who made an All-NBA team changed jerseys, but in regard to the two conferences, it would have been a pretty even swap — Kevin Durant for Kawhi Leonard — if both of those guys were healthy.
There was some consolidation of stars — Leonard and Paul George, Durant and Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook — but we’re left with three teams that employ three players that have made an All-NBA team in last five years. Two of those — Brooklyn and Golden State — will be missing one of their All-NBA guys for most (and maybe all) of the season. And for the third — the Lakers — one of the All-NBA guys (DeMarcus Cousins) has yet to return to form after his own injury.
So things appear to be wide open in both conferences, though with Durant on the shelf, there’s a clear top two teams in the East. And while both of those teams — the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers — lost important pieces in free agency, they both still have young MVP candidates that will continue to get better.
Given the size and talent in their starting lineup (and remembering how close they were to knocking off the eventual champs), there’s a case for the Sixers as the best team in the East (and maybe the best team in the league if their young guys all show improvement). But Philly has a little more to prove than the Bucks, who still have the MVP and the league’s No. 1 defense.
For these mid-Summer rankings, we’re looking at each conference separately and we’ll have Western Conference rankings next Monday (July 29). The “Last Week” rankings are based on how teams did in the playoffs and regular season.
- April 8: Warriors remain favorites … and East remains wide open
- This time last year: Celtics set to rule Eastern Conference for years — The Raptors had fired the franchise’s all-time winningest coach and traded its all-time leading scorer. LeBron James had taken his talents West, the Wizards and Bulls gave Dwight Howard and Jabari Parker two-year contracts, Dwyane Wade announced #OneLastDance, and seven East teams made coaching changes. The Celtics headline was a bit off and we had two eventual playoff teams — Brooklyn and Orlando — ranked 11th and 14th in the conference, respectively.
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averaged 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
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Last Week: 2 ↑
2018-19 record: 60-22
Pace: 103.6 (5) OffRtg: 113.5 (4) DefRtg: 104.9 (1) NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
Key addition(s): Wesley Matthews, Another Lopez, Another Antetokounmpo
Key departure(s): Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic
Key question: Does Giannis Antetokounmpo need to do more?
The Bucks did well in adding Matthews on a cheap deal, and he could give them a post presence (Ben Simmons was the only guard who averaged more post-ups per game last season) to diversify their offense a bit. But they lost some punch by replacing Brogdon, who averaged 12.8 drives per 36 minutes last season, with Matthews, who averaged just 4.3 drives per 36 (and then shot just 30 percent in the playoffs). So there's a need for another guard -- Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton or Donte DiVincenzo? -- to take on a larger role and give the Bucks, who scored just 102.3 points per 100 possessions over the last four games of the conference finals, some more juice off the dribble.
Last Week: 3 ↑
2018-19 record: 51-31
Pace: 102.6 (8) OffRtg: 111.5 (8) DefRtg: 108.9 (14) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)
Key addition(s): Al Horford, Josh Richardson
Key departure(s): Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick
Key question: How do they generate late-game offense?
The Sixers were already big, and then they bumped Tobias Harris to small forward in order to add Horford. And because no team staggers its starters like the Sixers do, the addition means that (when healthy) they will have Joel Embiid and/or Horford anchoring their defense at all times. So the potential is there for them to have the league's best defense, though they didn't get after it as well as they could have on that end of the floor in the regular season last year (when they ranked 14th defensively). They've lost some potency on offense with the departures of Butler and Redick, who was so critical as a shooting threat that never stopped moving. Richardson isn't the shooter that Redick is, but ranked in the top 10 in both total distance traveled on offense and hand-off possessions per game (where Redick led the league). Our next opportunity to see if Ben Simmons is willing to shoot a jumper comes next month when he plays in a pair of exhibitions against the U.S. National Team.
Last Week: 1 ↓
2018-19 record: 58-24
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 106.8 (5) NetRtg: +5.8 (3)
Key addition(s): Larry O.B.
Key departure(s): Board Man, Danny Green
Key question: Do they keep the roster together through the season?
The Raptors are still a very good (and deep) team. Pascal Siakam should take another step forward as he takes an even bigger role in the offense. (Last season, Siakam had a usage rate of 17.8 percent through December, 22.6 percent after Jan. 1, and 22.8 percent in the playoffs.) And this team (which will include a healthy, 22-year-old OG Anunoby) can still put together some great defensive lineups. But are Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka going to be around after next summer? If not, will Masai Ujiri look to get something for them before the trade deadline? Trading contracts of that size -- $35, $26 and $23 million, respectively -- is easier said than done, but the cupboard will eventually need to be restocked.
Last Week: 4
2018-19 record: 49-33
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 111.2 (10) DefRtg: 107.0 (6) NetRtg: +4.2 (6)
Key addition(s): Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter
Key departure(s): Frontline defense, Kyrie Irving
Key question: What's the ceiling for Brown and Tatum?
The loss of Horford and Aron Baynes will obviously hurt the Celtics' defense more than the swap of Irving for Walker hurts the offense, especially because Kanter gives them more interior scoring than they've had in a long time. His 308 baskets in the restricted area were almost exactly the same number as Horford, Baynes and Daniel Theis had total (309) last season and more than any Celtic has had since Rajon Rondo had 308 in the 2009-10 season. If Gordon Hayward regains some explosion while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum take steps forward, the Celtics' best offensive lineup -- Walker, Brown, Hayward, Tatum and Kanter -- will be tough to stop. Brown or Hayward will need to come off the bench again (behind Marcus Smart) to provide some balance.
Last Week: 5
2018-19 record: 42-40
Pace: 101.6 (11) OffRtg: 108.8 (19) DefRtg: 108.9 (15) NetRtg: -0.1 (15)
Key addition(s): KD and Ky-rie
Key departure(s): D'Angelo Russell, Some of that feel-good culture
Key question: Is Caris LeVert a third star?
The additions of Kyrie Irving and (eventually) Kevin Durant would seemingly lead to more one-on-one offense. But both Irving and Durant come from teams that moved the ball more last season than the Nets, who ranked 12th at 346 passes per 24 minutes of possession. Brooklyn also saw the biggest drop-off in ball movement from the regular season to the playoffs, when LeVert was their best player (and scored more efficiently in isolation than either of his new teammates). It would be prudent to be extra cautious with Durant (if, suppose, there's a decision to be made late in the season), but a full year of a healthy LeVert could raise the ceiling as they await the former MVP. A fourth straight season of improved defense could do that too, though the Nets lost their top five guys in defensive win shares last season. Though he's now competing for minutes with DeAndre Jordan, it's time for Jarrett Allen to develop from a shot-blocker into an impact defender.
Last Week: 7 ↑
2018-19 record: 48-34
Pace: 98.7 (25) OffRtg: 109.3 (18) DefRtg: 105.9 (3) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
Key addition(s): Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, Another Holiday, Two more T.J.s
Key departure(s): Six of their top eight guys in 2019 playoff minutes
Key question: Can Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner play together?
The addition of Brogdon could give the Pacers a higher ceiling. But the departures of six rotation guys could lower their floor, and swapping Thaddeus Young for T.J. Warren (along with the need to play Sabonis more) should lead to more Sabonis-Turner minutes. Those were a disaster (the Pacers were outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes with the pair on the floor together) in the playoffs, but the numbers were better (plus-14.4 per 100 possessions in 126 minutes) with Victor Oladipo on the floor in the regular season. With Oladipo likely to start this season on the shelf, the onus is on Brogdon to run an offense which ranked 23rd (108.7 points scored per 100 possessions) after Oladipo was injured and lost its leading scorer (Bojan Bogdanovic - 20.7 points per game) over those three months. Bogdanovic has been assisted on a greater percentage of his buckets than Lamb over the last three seasons, but has also been the more efficient scorer. The Pacers are one of two teams (the Thunder are the other) that has had a better-than-average defense in each of the last 10 seasons, and they'll need to depend on that defense once again.
Last Week: 9 ↑
2018-19 record: 39-43
Pace: 98.8 (23) OffRtg: 106.7 (26) DefRtg: 107.0 (7) NetRtg: -0.4 (16)
Key addition(s): Jimmy Butler, Jimmy drama?
Key departure(s): #OneLastRide, Josh Richardson
Key question: Is Bam Adebayo going to break out?
The Heat have had a top-10 defense in 18 of the 24 seasons since Pat Riley came to Miami, so you can be optimistic about their ability to withstand the departures of Richardson and Hassan Whiteside on that end of the floor. Offensively, not only are they upgrading with the arrival of Butler, but they should get better health from Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, who have played in just 46 games together over the last two seasons. Adebayo has the tools to be an impact player on both ends, and after two years of playing backup, he's still just 22 years old and no longer has Whiteside in his way. There were good numbers in the Dragic-Adebayo pick-and-roll last season -- their 1.10 points scored per direct pick ranked 26th among 269 pairings with at least 100, according to Second Spectrum tracking -- but with Dragic injured and Adebayo coming off the bench, the pair played just 387 minutes together (45th among the Heat's two-man combinations).
Last Week: 6 ↓
2018-19 record: 42-40
Pace: 98.7 (24) OffRtg: 108.1 (22) DefRtg: 107.5 (8) NetRtg: +0.6 (14)
Key addition(s): Al-Farouq Aminu
Key departure(s): N/A
Key question: Are they the new Hornets?
Three years ago, Steve Clifford's Charlotte Hornets had the best season in franchise history (winning 48 games and finishing in a four-way tie for the 3-6 seeds in the East) and proceeded to re-sign Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams to contracts that totaled more than $226 million. Three years later, they have a three-year playoff drought, they've lost Kemba Walker, and they're still stuck with those three role players. The Magic just ended a six-year playoff drought, but did they overpay Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross in order to avoid a step backward? And exactly how much better can they get with their only All-Star being a center who doesn't get to the line and shot 36 percent in the playoffs? There's certainly room for improvement on offense, where the Magic have ranked in the bottom 10 in each of the last seven seasons (the league's longest such active streak), but they're still searching for that upgrade at point guard.
Last Week: 8 ↓
2018-19 record: 41-41
Pace: 97.9 (28) OffRtg: 108.3 (21) DefRtg: 108.6 (12) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
Key addition(s): Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris
Key departure(s): Ish Smith
Key question: Are they just biding time?
The Pistons have a relatively low ceiling unless they can shake things up before Reggie Jackson's contract comes off the books next summer ... or more than one of their young wings -- Bruce Brown, Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas (all 23 years old or younger) -- exceed expectations. Kennard did have a couple of nice offensive games in the playoffs, Brown had an encouraging Summer League stint, and maybe the young legs (along with a pretty good defense) can get some easy buckets in transition. That, along with Rose and Morris coming off the bench, could take some of the burden off of Blake Griffin. But you have to wonder if Griffin himself can come back from knee surgery and play 75 games again.
Last Week: 12 ↑
2018-19 record: 29-53
Pace: 104.6 (1) OffRtg: 107.5 (23) DefRtg: 113.0 (28) NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
Key addition(s): De'Andre Hunter, Some 2016 contracts
Key departure(s): The last guy left from 60-22
Key question: Can they take a step forward defensively?
The Hawks had a top-10 offense (112.1 points scored per 100 possessions) over the last three months of the season, and the only three players to average at least 20 points and eight assists over that stretch were LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Trae Young. They've added Hunter and Cam Reddish to their young core, and Evan Turner will provide some additional playmaking. But when it's time to start moving up the ladder in the East, they will need to make some progress defensively. They were one of two teams (Phoenix was the other) that ranked in the bottom five in both opponent effective field goal percentage and opponent free throw rate. No team was outscored by more points per game (3.9) at the line.
Last Week: 13 ↑
2018-19 record: 22-60
Pace: 99.3 (20) OffRtg: 104.5 (29) DefRtg: 112.8 (25) NetRtg: -8.3 (27)
Key addition(s): Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Coby White
Key departure(s): Robin Lopez's sweeping hook
Key question: How good are Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.?
The Bulls have surrounded their young bigs with some competent vets, including Otto Porter, who shot 49 percent from 3-point range after arriving at the trade deadline. But all eyes are still on the two former No. 7 picks, who played in just 21 games together last season. It's not good that Carter's summer is being spent rehabbing from abdominal surgery, but Young should complement both and help what has been the league's third worst defense over the last two seasons (and was pretty dreadful, allowing 116.5 points per 100 possessions, with Markkanen at center last year). Playing for the team that ranked second in opponent turnover rate last season, Young ranked fourth in the league in deflections per game.
Last Week: 11 ↓
2018-19 record: 32-50
Pace: 102.3 (9) OffRtg: 110.1 (15) DefRtg: 112.9 (27) NetRtg: -2.7 (25)
Key addition(s): Rui Hachimura, Place-holder point guards
Key departure(s): Everybody they acquired for Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter
Key question: Will Bradley Beal stay patient?
Beal has established himself as one of the best two guards in the league. Both he (true shooting percentage of 58.8 percent) and the Wizards (113.6 points per 100 possessions) scored efficiently with Beal running the offense after John Wall was lost for the season in late December. But six of the seven other Wizards who averaged double-figures over that stretch are gone, leaving only Thomas Bryant, who gave a lot of points back on the other end of the floor. Even if Isaiah Thomas can resurrect his career and Troy Brown (the No. 15 pick from the 2018 Draft) makes a leap in his second season, defense is probably going to be a problem again.
Last Week: 15 ↑
2018-19 record: 17-65
Pace: 100.2 (17) OffRtg: 104.0 (30) DefRtg: 112.8 (26) NetRtg: -8.8 (28)
Key addition(s): R.J. Barrett, Julius Randle, Some other stuff
Key departure(s): Most of what was the worst team in the league
Key question: How are they going to play?
The Knicks not only struck out in their quest to add marquee free agents, they also seem to have passed on the chance to add future assets by using their cap space to take on undesirable contracts. Barrett, along with a couple of returnees, represents some promise for the future and a few of the new guys can get buckets. But it's a bit of a weird mix, and for it to work (to whatever extent they want it to), they'll have to be a lot more cohesive than last year's Knicks were. There will be no mulligan on the Kristaps Porzingis trade, but a new season is a second chance for David Fizdale to establish a foundation for how his Knicks are going to play on both ends of the floor.
Last Week: 10 ↓
2018-19 record: 39-43
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 110.7 (11) DefRtg: 111.9 (22) NetRtg: -1.2 (19)
Key addition(s): Terry Rozier
Key departure(s): Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb
Key question: How good are the kids?
The big contracts of 2016 (along with Cody Zeller) are still around, but with Walker having walked, it's clearly time for the Hornets to give their young core -- Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk and P.J. Washington -- a long leash. Monk's second season was a disappointment, but Bridges showed some real statistical improvement (that came with taking more efficient shots) after the All-Star break. It would help if Rozier is more of a playmaker than a scorer in his new role with a new team. He's seen an increase in assist-turnover ratio in each of the last three seasons, from 1.95 in his rookie season to 3.40 (11th in the league) last season. But his true shooting percentage of 50.1 percent (he neither shot very well or got to the line very often) ranked 170th among 178 players with at least 500 field goal attempts.
Last Week: 14 ↓
2018-19 record: 19-63
Pace: 97.4 (29) OffRtg: 106.8 (25) DefRtg: 116.7 (30) NetRtg: -10.0 (30)
Key addition(s): John Beilein, another 6-2 guard taken in the Lottery
Key departure(s): N/A (or J/R)
Key question: Any takers for all these vets?
The Cavs couldn't find anybody to trade for J.R. Smith, but they have a slew of other vets on expiring contracts, along with Kevin Love (who has four years and $120 million left on his deal). The good news for the new coach is that this team can't possibly be worse defensively than it was last season (right?), and he's got time to figure out if either Collin Sexton or Darius Garland is a starting point guard in this league. Sexton was a much improved shooter after the All-Star break last season, but still ranked 42nd in assist ratio (just 13.6 per 100 possessions used) among 53 guards with a usage rate over 20 percent after the break. The Cavs ranked in the bottom four in both ball and player movement, but a new coach could obviously make an impact in that regard.